Downhill from Hindhead (11.5 miles)
From: A linear walk of 11.5 miles, starting from the Hindhead Crossroads bus stop and ending at the North Down's Way sign at Hinkley Corner.
Length: 11.5 miles.
Average Walk Time: 5 hours at a reasonable pace.
Terrain: Downhill for the first 4 miles to Thursley, then gently undulating over Hankley Common and the Sheephatch and Moor Park tracks from Tilford back.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Great views from Gibbet Hill and interesting WW2 reminders on the way.
"Sun is shining in the sky
There ain't a cloud in sight"
According to ELO, and according to the sky outside when I woke up this was the case. What to do? Go walking, what else?
Not being a fan of hills, I love the Devil's Punchbowl, but walking up it puts me off. To combat this, I have a route that I will share with you today. I took the number 19 bus – it stops outside Farnham Sainsburys on the hour and at the station at 4 minutes past – Monday to Saturday. I caught an 8.04 and was at the Hindhead crossroads where I de-bussed at 8.28. I walked across the crossroads and up the hill into the Devil's Punchbowl National Trust car park. Had I caught the 9.04 I could have visited their café, but I'd breakfasted at home and didn't need a stop quite so early. By convention, I always walk over to the edge and admire the view into the Punchbowl. Noticeably, the weather was clouding up, and with ELO's song pinging through my brain, I set out, turned right from the edge and followed the handy waymarks for the 'Sailor's Stroll' around the rim of the Punchbowl. A pleasant gentle uphill pull of about a mile took me towards Gibbet Hill. On the way, I paused to admire the Sailor's Stone and checked out its inscriptions. Apparently, an unknown sailor was murdered in 1786. His murderers were caught, tried and hanged on Gibbet Hill the following year.
Having read the NT plaque, I moved on and remembered the right turn off the main path to the top of Gibbet Hill (the junction is marked Ⓐ on the photo below). I looked out towards London and could just see the iconic skyline poking through the gloom. Had the day been clearer, I might have seen the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, as well as the Wembley Arch from there. The sky was now full of clouds, with no trace of the earlier sunshine. I look the obligatory 'view' photo, one of the Celtic Cross marking the site of the gibbet and set off downhill. One can pass either side of the cross, the right-hand path through the woods being my favourite.
I walked on … The advantage of this route is that from Gibbet Hill, it's downhill all the way to Thursley. The disadvantage is that if, like on this day, it starts raining after 15 minutes, it's uphill all the way back to the café in the car park. I took the coward's way out and stood under a tree, sheltering. A dog walker passed me, cheerily calling out "this is unexpected", with their raincoat pulled tightly around them. I was only wearing a T-shirt and a wide-brimmed sun hat. Fortunately, the hat kept the rain off my balding head, but the T-shirt did little to keep me dry or warm. Luckily the rain subsided after about 10 minutes and I was able to continue – ELO's song still annoyingly rattling in my brain. At least the petrichor was strong and wafted me on downhill. The path is basically straight. A kilometre down from Gibbet's Hill, the footpath crosses a minor road, (Ⓑ in the photo). If you're following this route, make sure you don't miss this junction. Stay on the path as the road goes a different way and will parallel the A3 before getting to Thursley – not the most pleasant of routes.
After a kilometre and a half more, the path levelled out and joined a road. It passed Little Cowdray Farm and the two Highfield Farms (Upper and Lower). The road turned half right and Hedge Farm appeared on the left. Here, the footpath set off North. It was signed, but not well and the path was a little narrow and overgrown to start with, passing to the right of the farm house. (Ⓒ on the photo). After 500m on the path, I reached a new small road and turned uphill, right towards Thursley (Ⓓ).
Thursley Church marked the end of this new path. At the church, I turned left and wiggled through a car park before coming to the road. A short walk took me to the minute Thursley Green (little more than a triangle of grass in a road junction), where I took the road to the left. The next footpath was tricky to find. Immediately after turning left at the tiny village triangle, I looked for a walled house on my right-hand side. Following the left side of the wall, an unmarked, but well-defined path led off straight ahead. I've marked this Ⓔ on the photo.
For a while, the track ran through pleasant woods. There was only one difficult junction. After 1 kilometre the path split and I took the left-hand option. As I almost passed it I saw the thick wooden way-mark post (circled on the photo). This was the key to making sure I was on the correct route. (Check Ⓕ on the picture). 300 metres later and I reached a small road. I turned left here and almost immediately right again off the road, uphill on the track to Hankley Common. For a full kilometre this is an easy route. I smiled at the 'guard' at the road barrier. He has to be so bored sitting all day in his car, with only grouchy walkers to smile at. I pressed on, happy I wasn't a gate guard. At a feature known as the 'Lion's Mouth' I had a choice. Straight on would take me to the Hankley Golf Course, but I had been told about the 'Atlantic Wall'. I've marked these on a picture. A footpath slightly to the left of my normal one took me to the wall, which was only about 100m off my normal route. It was well worth the detour. As the plaque says, the Americans used this structure to plan their assault on the wall on the French coast during the Second World War. There are several bits of concrete and I wandered around them for a while. Cutting back to the junction at the Lion's Mouth I was back on to the path to Hankley Golf Course. This gave me a chance to smile at golfers, who growled at me for interrupting their game. The route took me swinging to the right around the club house and to the Stockbridge Pond. Here a sharp left brought me back to the road into Tilford. A small footpath just before the road (known as Molly's Ride) circumvented the busy road pavements and took me to the green at Tilford.
I paused for a quick picnic lunch here, before setting off again over the bridge over the River Wey. There are two pill boxes in the field the other side of the bridge, and the route took me up a small footpath on the left of the road, 10 metres or so after the bridge and beside the pill boxes. This is another reminder of WW2 and the defences we built at that time. The path took me up to Sheephatch. There is only one junction on the way that can be confusing. About 200m after Tilhill House, (which has an annoying dog that frequently barks aggressively at me), there was the one and only junction on this section of path. I made sure I took the right-hand option (Ⓖ in the photos, it heads uphill). After that, the route was easy and soon crossed Sheephatch Lane. I once made a comment about sheep hatching to a fellow walker, and was told that hatch means gate (stupid me). So now, instead of looking for sheep eggs, I look for sheep gates! Having crossed the lane, the path went through a forestry area, turned left downhill and soon right at a path T-junction.
On reaching the main road, I remembered to take care! It was very busy after the quiet footpaths. I turned left here and took the first right by Stella's Cottage. 20m after the junction the footpath through Moor Park led off. Notable landmarks on this section were Mother Ludlam's Cave and the two further pill boxes. Both have description boars, so I won't say any more here. At the end of the path through Moor Park, I exited by the gates and turned left up Moor Park Lane. 200m further and the road turned right at a junction, then a footpath led off right after another 100m.
Nearly home. The footpath passed the bee-orchid bench, went through a kissing gate and turned left. Another 100m and I took the path on the right back towards town. Under the railway bridge, and 1500m more walking, and I was back at Hankley Corner on the A31.
This is a very pleasant walk, largely downhill (hooray) and with easy route finding. It's a favourite of mine if the sun is shining in the sky!